Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city.

Month: August 2012

Last week’s trip to Ontario

So last week, I went to Ontario for a little family/business/pleasure trip. 

I took a little walk around Fenelon Falls. Here’s a pic of the cabin built by a store and put in the store’s backyard. I’m fascinated with tiny houses because I simply must buy myself some land and have one where I can get away any time I want. I like this design, though I’d have side and back windows and a loft window or skylight as that would be the sleeping area. I need less of a porch than this, so I might pull it out into an L shape, leaving the windows just as they are. (I sense a topic for a winter blog post in the making!)

About 3 clicks east of Fenelon Falls, I went to a farm where they had a table to sell produce, and since I’m the special kind of stupid that forgets I’m a blogger, I forgot to take pictures of the farm stand, the turkeys, etc. Instead, I get to show you the giant zucchini, the dozen corn, some tomatoes, and the cabbage I bought, right here on my kitchen counter.
 The people I stayed with down the road had to spend about an hour a day out in their squash patch, vacuuming the squash bugs off the leaves. They let me harvest purple beans from their box garden full of them. I forgot to take pictures of that, too, even though I’d found my good camera, so that’s why the beans are in the picture.

Instead, since I’ve got a soft spot (in my head, like an over-ripe melon!) for animals, I took pictures of the one lonesome Muscovy duck, Mamma. Mamma used to look over the chickens – and, at 9 years old, if she survives over the winter, she’ll do so again in the spring. She apparently likes to kick the hens off the eggs (though I wonder, with broody hens, if they’ll give up easily) and hatch and look after the chicks. 

Meanwhile, over at Gamiing, a family of wild turkeys passes by the Discovery Shack and heads over into the farmer’s soybeans. The first pic is pretty good of the trailing adult, but you can also see the miniature young adult in the background by the fence.

This picture of the first adult with one of the youngsters gives you a better idea of their relative sizes.

On my drive back to Quebec, I passed a farmer’s field in Martintown with its straw all rolled up and ready to be taken back to the farm to be used for bedding. Because it’s not forage for over the winter, it’s wrapped in a nylon net, rather than bagged in a wrapper that protects hay from the elements and converts it to haylage or silage, which means it’s partially fermented. A majestic view of a well-kept field, with treelines in view and a forest to the left. Eastern Ontario has some gorgeous farm country.


A few weeks ago, these two young raccoons spent the day in the tree over top of my back yard. And then, a couple of nights ago, close to midnight, I heard a sound out back; another raccoon, of course. A young, healthy one had raided my eggshell supply that I keep for amending the bird seed (or just washing into the garden). He had also pulled the pet laundry folded on the park bench down. He seemed to really like rubbing his paws all over the towel, that was fun. Then, he ate some stuff in the garden – leaves, slugs, who knows. He knew I was there, and as I started to eat a yogourt while watching him, he fixed his eyes on me in a dim, myopic way, and came up to the patio door to poke his nose into the screen – “got some for me?” I warned him I had a water gun and he better not mess with the screen. Then he picked up and “washed” the spilled eggshells. I turned the patio light off. He quietly retreated back to the park bench towel; I went to bed.

Now that Clyde and Rufus has raised their kids, we have new squirrels coming by to beg. This one wasn’t begging, she was just hanging out. The moment I opened the patio door, she (I think this one’s a girl) scampered off. A favourite spot for the squirrels, they have scooped away the dirt on the shed roof, which has not helped the herbs there keep their moisture. Some are dead until the rain comes back. It’s a shallow, sloped bed, well used, almost every day.  

Only someone with a great tolerance for bad photography will see the grackle bathing here in the waterfall portion of my pond. The rocks are submerged below the surface, so bigger birds have confidence to get themselves thoroughly wet. The pond is a mainstay for the house sparrows, but I have chickadees – I love hearing their arrival! – as well as grackles and starlings visit, and the occasional robin, cardinal, house finch, and rare downy woodpecker also come by. 

Two keys to having wildlife come by and enjoy your garden are having a source of running water, and having a “messy” garden, with brush piles and lots of wood for perching and shrubbery for hiding in. I find the presence of nature in my immediate back yard gives me and my human guests a great feeling of peace – and of course, occasional excitement. 

More garden pics – the harvest slowly begins

I have two sad items of news to report. One of them is that I have really misplaced my good camera, the one I probably used to take the following photographs. Without that camera, I’m limited to grainy iPhone snaps, or (lord forbid) the marginally better (or not) pictures I might take by digging out my old Sony Ericsson CyberShot cell phone, which once was good but became distorted through the kinds of mishaps that phones can get into. 
The second, was that the beautiful cucumbers that took off, making up for the dismal start to my backyard garden, well, most of them got cucumber wilt, a bacterial disease transmitted by cucumber beetles, and I did see one of them – oh, how annoying! I did a paper on them only a few months ago, which I’ve uploaded, warts and all, to Scribd. It’s dry, it’s chunky, it’s a synthesis of a lot of information out there. It’s useful to the organic farmer planting a good couple of rows of cucurbits. 
The bad news is over, just as the growing season soon will be. I’m planning my garden changes so that next year’s is that much more productive – the gardens near to me with greater supports and resources were more lush, and this is what I want – a proper grow fence down the meridian of the front yard, and a rain barrel with a seeping hose so that I can better serve the water needs of my front garden. As for the back garden: lots of compost enrichment this fall, soil testing in the spring, liming it, and getting things better prepared earlier in the season.  
Without further adieu, here are photos of my garden two weeks ago, at the time the drought finally ended. You can see tiny watermelons (that didn’t make it – it’s a mystery what happened to them) – and a new watermelon sprout with attendant tomatoes, basil, and a small pepper plant. The cool weather has brought on more new growth. 

The chicken-wire barricade there is my rabbit fence – not like it stops them, it only slows them down. There’s tasty, tasty clover to be had…

And my first fruits of the garden – not counting a handful of curly yellow beans – are these delicious cherry tomatoes. The parent plant is very prolific. I am looking forward to having more of them this coming weekend, when I return to Montreal from my parents’ home in Ontario. 

Charlotte’s web

This post is brought to you by Life brand Nighttime Cold Relief, which, alas, I needed to take today, thus wrecking an important part of arachnid industry.

You may notice in the photo, between the mouse figurine and the medication bottle, a little spider. With its previous moult exoskeleton hanging above. If you really look, you’ll see that there is greater clarity in a circle around the spider. This is Charlotte’s cave.

Charlotte has been a very subdued presence on the kitchen sill, hanging out at the mouth of her cave but retreating whenever I startle her. As she has been such an effective hunter there, I decided not to interfere – there’s no need. But, since I had to wreck her extended web today by taking away the medication bottle (using a pair of chopsticks), I got to remove a lot of the exoskeletons of herself and her prey, and I was really quite surprised how small she started out when she moved in – she was a very tiny spider. Now, she’s a bold thing with a leg span greater than a 25¢ piece, when she comes out of her cave. Since the destruction of the cave, she hides behind the mouse figurine.

Last week, for two nights in a row, after more than a week without prey coming to her finely spun web wound round the frame of the window and various doodads not pictured above, she got off the window sill and wrapped a new web around the – I kid you not – handle of the kitchen faucet. The first morning I just removed the web, but after the second morning, I felt a little sorry for her because the energy expenditure to do that work must mean she was hungry. I left the web intact, and just handled the faucet when I needed to use it. The web would sag with the direction the handle was throttled. Eventually the web tore off and I discarded the excess.

I am sure she will build a new web configuration overnight. If it starts expanding again, I might have to relocate her, with great care, to the outside or to my garage. I have guests coming on the weekend and I won’t be around to supervise – I don’t want to freak them out too much. A sticky note with her name on it is insufficient information to say “this spider is ok by me.”

An update: Charlotte moved her web over to the left corner of the window, which is a great spot for her. 

In addition: The orb-weaver spider, which we have in Quebec and is perhaps all over the world, weaves a web between plants in meadows. Because it is so energetically costly to weave a web, the spider creates a zig-zag pattern across with silk that is coated with proteins that show up in UV light (or else the zig-zag renders the view more obvious), so that birds don’t fly through in pursuit of insects. This idea is now being applied to glass, to reduce bird impacts. Read about it on the BBC website.